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Chipmunks are small striped squirrels native to North America and Asia. They are usually classed either as a single genus with three subgenera, or as three genera.
Etymology and taxonomy
Chipmunks are usually classified either as a single genus, Tamias, or as three genera: Tamias, containing the eastern chipmunk; Eutamias, containing the Siberian chipmunk; and Neotamias, containing the 23 remaining, mostly western, species. These classifications are arbitrary, and most taxonomies over the twentieth century have placed the chipmunks in a single genus. However, studies of mitochondrial DNA show that each of the three chipmunk groups is about as distinct genetically as genera such as Marmota and Spermophilus.
Tamias is Greek for "storer," a reference to the animals' habit of collecting and storing food for winter use.
The common name originally may have been spelled "chitmunk" (from the Odawa word jidmoonh, meaning "red squirrel"; c.f. Ojibwe, ajidamoo). However, the earliest form cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (from 1842) is "chipmonk". Other early forms include "chipmuck" and "chipminck", and in the 1830s they were also referred to as "chip squirrels," possibly in reference to the sound they make. They are also called "striped squirrels", "chippers", "munks", "timber tigers", or "ground squirrels", though the name "ground squirrel" usually refers to other squirrels, such as those of the genus Spermophilus.
Chipmunks have an omnivorous diet consisting of grain, nuts, fruit, berries, birds' eggs, small frogs, fungi, worms, insects and on occasions small mammals like young mice. At the beginning of autumn, many species of chipmunk begin to stockpile these goods in their burrows, for winter. Other species make multiple small caches of food. These two kinds of behavior are called larder hoarding and scatter hoarding. Larder hoarders usually live in their nests until spring. Cheek pouches allow chipmunks to carry multiple food items to their burrows for either storage or consumption.
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